I haven’t read this book in a year, but my brother asked me to review it. So, excuse me if I get the chronology mixed up or something. The book is told mostly in flashbacks, and it’s hard for me to remember what happens first.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides is one of those incredible books that make you wonder how they could be someone’s first novel. I was turned off by the title and subject matter of the book so I didn’t read it at first. But I caught the movie one night on TV and was mesmerized by it, so I decided to read the book.
The Virgin Suicides is written from the point of view of a group of boys growing up in the 70s in Grand Blanc, Michigan, a wealthy suburb of Detroit. The boys are fascinated by the five beautiful Lisbon sisters and their family life. Although they all go to the same school, the girls are kept isolated from other teenagers by their mother’s strictness. Their father is an easy-going science teacher at their school.
The boys begin by spying on the girls, then collecting souvenirs of the girls’ lives, which they go over incessantly, trying to understand them. In an experiment of leniency, Mrs. Lisbon allows the sisters to have a few classmates over to the house, including the boys, but the deadly dull party ends disastrously with the suicide of the youngest girl.
As the boys begin to connect more directly with the girls and the family alternates between trying to be more normal and totally isolating the girls, the family becomes more unhinged.
The book is sometimes lyrical, sometimes sophomoric sounding, sometimes witty, and savagely ironic, painting a vivid picture of the time and place. The disintegration of urban Detroit and its surrounding areas, symbolized by the neighborhood losing all its trees to the Dutch Elm disease, parallels the disintegration of the Lisbon family.